My father & Yasser Arafat, Israel & the Palestinians


Regular readers will know that I rarely write about politics. But this post is an exception, as it is written in memory of my father, who died on this day 7 years ago. That's my father on the left, with the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died almost exactly four years later.

Some 14 months after Arafat's death, in January 2006, the Palestinians elected as their leaders the Islamist group Hamas (Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyya, or the Islamic Resistance Movement).

The election was democratic, in the real sense of the word. Unfortunately, however, the Palestinians elected the wrong leaders, because Hamas is considered to be a terrorist organization by both Israel and the United States.

For most of the time that he was the Palestinian leader, both Israel and the U.S. refused to negotiate with Arafat, on the grounds that he was a terrorist. So, despite the criticisms levelled at the Palestinians, and the subsequent fears of the so-called "international community", the election of Hamas made very little difference to the situation: Israel and the U.S. will not negotiate with Hamas, because they are terrorists.

The Palestinians are still being punished for their choice of leader. The chaos in Gaza at the moment is at least partly due to  U.S. supporting Mahmoud Abbas, but Hamas is unwilling to relinquish power. This fragmentation, with Fatah in control in the West Bank, and Hamas controlling the Gaza strip, plays right into Israel's hands.

Hamas, we are always told, seeks to destroy the Jewish state. But let's not forget that the Palestinian state has already been destroyed, and Isreal is intent not only on preventing it from ever being re-created, but also on erasing the very memory of its existence. 

The early Zionists considered historical Palestine as "a land without a people, for a people without a land", and dreamed of turning that land into an exclusively Jewish state. Modern Zionists share this dream. Herein lies Israel's "demographic problem": some 25% of its population consists of Palestinian Arabs, which is a far cry from the exclusive Jewish state which Herzl wished for.

To make matters worse, the Palestinians have among the highest birth rates in the world. So, extrapolating current trends, Israeli Jews could actually constitute a minority of Israel's population, within just several decades. So Israel's demographic problem is a major one. 

Knowing well that the Palestinians cannot be eliminated outright, Israel is instead trying its best to convince the Palestinians to leave of their own accord, by means of collective punishment and brutal oppression.

Without a negotiating partner, Israel can continue to act unilaterally to achieve its aims. It continues to expand its illegal settlements in the West Bank, claiming, inch by inch, land that does not rightly belong to it.

The truth is, that Israel does not seek negotiation with the Palestinians. Even when negotiations were being conducted, they were futile. Israel's proposed concessions fall far short of the least of the Palestinians' demands, and the situation in the Middle East seems more complicated than ever.

The responsibility of resolving this seemingly intractable conflict is, as always, placed squarely on the shoulders of the Palestinians. It is they who must renounce violence, and recognize Israel, even though every aspect of their lives is controlled by the Israelis.

Israel, too, must renounce violence, and recognize the right of the Palestinians for self-determination and a state of their own. Israel will never find peace - either with the Palestinains or with itself - until it does so.

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I thought the "no politics" thing was working splendidly, but you had to go and ruin a good thing.

There doesn't appear to be anything in this post that would be new to anyone who actually pays attention to this issue, so what is the effect you're trying to achieve here?

I agree with all of this, but I would add one thing. It is absolutely true that Israel has never negotiated in good faith, but it is at least arguable that no Palestinean leader has ever negotiated in good faith either. The truth is until the sides are forced to the negotiating table by third parties (which is almost certainly never) neither will seek a real peace. And Israel will continue to force the Palestinians into Bantustans.

Hi Mo --

I greatly enjoy your blog, and offer condolences on the anniversary of your father's passing.

I am curious about one aspect of this post -- you state "Hamas is considered to be a terrorist organization by both Israel and the United States." This phrasing implies that you disagree.

Do you consider Hamas to be a terrorist group?

By Neuro-conservative (not verified) on 13 Nov 2007 #permalink

Nice, simple summary of the current situation. It seems so obvious to everyone in the world, yet nothing happens.. except Palestinians suffer, and Israelis continue living in apparent fear.

I wonder how different this conversation will be when Arabs make up 51% of the Israeli population.

I am quite a fan of your blog but so as to not further strain my tight schedule I don't post comments on blogs unless I feel the blogger is profoundly wrong about something. I have found just such a case in this post, I'm afraid.

What evidence have the Palestinians given the world that they are CAPABLE of self-determination and maintaining their own state? Israel, graciously and unilaterally, decided to withdraw from Gaza - even forcibly uprooting its own citizens to do so. Once in control of Gaza, what did the Palestinians do? Build hospitals? No, they set about looting and destroying everything the Isralies left behind and immediately began launching Quassam rockets into Israel.

In the last five years what has the Palestinian authority (under Fatah or Hamas) done to make the lives of ordinary Palestinians better? Have they shown themselves to be competent leaders, or have they spent their time fighting each other and provoking Israel? Like you said, the government was legitimately democratically elected. If the Palestinian people show no interest in improving their own lives and only elect violent lunatics, then they are not a people ready for self-determination.

It is not Israel who is required to change for the sake of the peace process. The concessions they have both given and offered are frankly stunning in their generosity. But there is a reason it has not been enough for Hamas - they are committed to Israel's destruction. No concession on Israel's part (excepting suicide) could possibly be enough for them. You cannot begin negotiations with someone who is willing to tell you "I will not rest into you are dead."

Finally, as to Israel's use of violence, SAINTLIKE restraint has been shown on the part of the Isralies. Take the war with Hezbollah: if a rogue group in Lebanon was launching rockets into Syrian cities, would the Syrians been as temperate with their military as the Isralies were? Would they have gone to the trouble of dropping fliers warning people to leave before dropping bombs? Would they go to the trouble of avoiding unnecessary civilian deaths the way Israel did?

If you think I'm wrong about Israel, you have to make a bit more compelling case for it than the one you've put forward sir.


I am very glad to be able to finally read a commentary which is very unemotional but very evocative. My we read more aspects like these.

Yahya, Queens NYC

By Yahya Abdelsamad (not verified) on 13 Nov 2007 #permalink

There never has been a "Palestinian State" to destroy. This piece is nonsense.

By joelsk44039 (not verified) on 13 Nov 2007 #permalink


Israel has shown about as much restraint and honesty as Pat Robertson does when he talks about evolution.

By natural cynic (not verified) on 13 Nov 2007 #permalink

"Isreal is intent not only on preventing it from ever being re-created, but also on erasing the very memory of its existence"

Come on, are you serious? You can't have it both ways. Either the whole area is one country and Israel owes the Palestinians police support, monetary support, healthcare, and all the other state responsibilities, or Gaza and the West Bank are a separate country and Israel's primary responsibility is to keep their border secure.

And like David said: "You cannot begin negotiations with someone who is willing to tell you 'I will not rest into you are dead.'"

"We plan to eliminate the State of Israel and establish a purely Palestinian state. We will make life unbearable for Jews by psychological warfare and population explosion... We Palestinians will take over everything, including all of Jerusalem"
-Yasser Arafat, Speech in Stockholm, 1996

That picture looks like it's from the days when Arafat was leading the PLO and the PLO was widely considered a terrorist group (unlike after Oslo where the PA's link to terrorism was less clear) You make this nice and sentimental looking, but you seem not to mention what your father's relation was to Arafat. Was he also a PLO member? A PLO leader?

And to repeat the question above, do you consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization (even if they also do many social services)? I'll add, do you consider the PLO behavior in the 70's and 80's to be terrorism.

natural cynic:
Thank you for adding such a cogent and substantive point to the debate.

Hi Mo,
One does have to take a political stand one way or the other and I write juts to inform you that there are many which agree with the stand that you have taken.

May peace prevail in Middle east.

One less blog to read.

Your estimation has dropped substantially from my perspective. This is not a proper blog post, but a manifesto/propaganda piece that makes sweeping statements about wide swaths of people and attributes opinions and motivations that you simply can't know. Your usual pieces contain at least minimal citations, but here you are content to make fantastically damning statements like "Isreal is intent... on erasing the very memory of [a Palestinian state]" without ANY EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER.

As with, in my experience, the majority of scholars in natural sciences, you seem to have the idea that political science is a realm where you are allowed to believe anything you want and be taken seriously on the basis of your scientific training. Well, let me give you a clue: you aren't. When you change hats, you go from a serious science journalist to just-another-yahoo spouting off his political opinion.

I can't believe you posted this crap.

I agree with Anibal. Nice and bold. The issue obviously being one of the most charged conflicts in the world, I will not pretend to know more than anyone else. But I agree with your view on the matter: the violence must end. Oppression and terror fan the flames of each other in a vicious cycle.